Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Lion Dogs – A Memoir

1976, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. My lion and I skating..

My son recently read C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Discussing the book with him reminded me of my own childhood.  I was one of those kids that didn’t need a ton of toys or games (besides my bike.)  My imagination, much like it is today, kept me entertained completely.

When I was a child I had my own Lion, my own Wardrobe and even a Witch.  My Lions name wasn’t  Aslan, but Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe looked like a collie dog with a golden mane, long snout, warm eyes and a protective stance, but to me he was a real life lion.  I would make him sit patiently while I bandaged his pretend wounds and lectured him on treating his friend, namely my nasty cat Sabrina, so rudely.  He would apologize to me with his eyes – trying to explain what had happened, while I would hold Sabrina up to his face so he could apologize to her as well.  He wouldn’t even flinch when she would smack him, claws out, hissing.  Lions are like that; very regal and stoic.

My Wardrobe was the back door of my townhouse on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Outside of my house was thick woods that literally held hundreds of paths leading to the Potomac River.  Depending on the time of year the woods were either dark with a heavy leaf canopy, or bright, airy and cold with colored leaves carpeting the ground.  Sometimes, the blanket of snow was so deep the woods appear to partially disappear and when the river would freeze, my lion and I would ice-skate.  He would pad on the ice, slipping and falling and eventually head back to the edge and roar at me.

Ivanhoe and I would spend hours and hours exploring the woods, hunting for salamanders, rescuing birds that Sabrina had tortured, hiding under fallen trees and even spying on my brother and sister and friends.  We had special powers that made us invisible, so spying was no problem.  On the occasion our invisibility powers were weak and we were caught, we would use our super human speed and run home – me in the lead and Ivanhoe right on my tail.  We’d rest and eat and then be off again to the woods of Narnia.

Our Narnia had a Witch too.  I never saw her, although I would feel her around us occasionally.  My brother told me that there was no witch, but spirits of dead soldiers walking the woods and that people had been known to see them near “Dead-Man’s cliff.”  He and his friends would hunt for old war relics and tell scary stories.  The Queen, my mother, wouldn’t allow my lion and I to go to “the cliff” and said I was too young and it was too dangerous.  I went anyway of course, as I wasn’t fond of listening and knew my lion would protect me.  I never saw the dead soldier ghosts walking in the woods or standing at “Dead-Man’s cliff” so I never believed in them.  I didn’t have to see the Witch to know she existed.  She was always the one to whisper to me to break the rules and explore anyway…..

I lived on Fort Belvoir for only three years. My Lion, my Narnia, my Wardrobe and even my Witch gave me some of the most memorable days of my childhood.  I can still feel Ivanhoe’s mane, smell the forest floor of the woods surrounding the Potomac River, visualize the backdoor of my townhouse looking out at the woods and occasionally – my Witch still whispers to me……

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
-Shel Silverstein